‘Learning to Drive’ – A Conversation with Director Isabel Coixet, and Actors Patricia Clarkson & Sarita Choudhury
by Susan Kouguell
I recently sat down with director Isabel Coixet, and actors Patricia Clarkson and Sarita Choudhury at the Crosby Hotel in New York City, to discuss their new film “Learning to Drive.” The film, written by Sarah Kernochan, is based on the autobiographical New Yorker short story by Katha Pollit, a long-time political columnist for the Nation.
Wendy is a fiery Manhattan author whose husband has just left her for a younger woman; Darwan is a soft-spoken taxi driver from India on the verge of an arranged marriage. As Wendy sets out to reclaim her independence, she runs into a barrier common to many lifelong New Yorkers: she’s never learned to drive. When Wendy hires Darwan to teach her, her unraveling life and his calm restraint seem like an awkward fit. But as he shows her how to take control of the wheel, and she coaches him on how to impress a woman, their unlikely friendship awakens them to the joy, humor, and love in starting life anew.
My conversation began with Isabel Coixet and Sarita Choudhury
Isabel Coixet’s award-winning film credits include “Demaisiado viejo para morir joven,” “Things I Never Told You,””My Life Without Me,” “The Secret Life of Words,” “Paris, je t’aime,” “Elegy,” “Map of the Sounds of Tokyo,” “Yesterday Never Ends,” “Another Me,” “Nobody Wants the Night,” as well as documentaries, including “Invisibles.”
Currently, Sarita Choudhury can be seen on Showtime’s “Homeland.” Her film credits include “Admission,” “Gayby,” “Midnight’s Children,” “Generation Um…,” “Entre Nos,” “The Accidental Husband,” “Lady in the Water,” “The War Within,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love,” “She Hate Me,” “Just a Kiss,” “Wild West,” “High Art,” “The House of the Spirits,” “Gloria,” and “A Perfect Murder.”
Susan Kouguell: Tell me about the process of how “Learning to Drive” came about.
Isabel Coixet: We started talking about making this film with Patricia and Ben Kingsley when we were making “Elegy” (directed by Coixet, starring Clarkson and Kingsley) and we got along very well and we wanted to make another film together. Patricia discovered the short story by Katha Pollit, and she gave it to me and I thought it was wonderful. And then we got the screenwriter Sarah Kernocha involved. The film is a comedy but not a classical comedy. It was a very difficult film to pitch because you know financiers and producers want something they can put in one box and you can’t with this film. It was a long process. It took nine years.
Some Words Unspoken and the Intimacy of the Camera
Isabel Coixet: There is always this romantic feeling underneath [subtext], I think there is that possibility. You have to be true to your words. If they are true, you will have to stick to your words.
Susan Kouguell and Patricia Clarkson